Jewelry and gems may shine beautifully, but there’s a grim reality to this industry. 90% of the global mining workforce is small-scale, also known as “artisanal.” Women make up ⅓ of the 15 million small-scale miners based in more than 73 countries. While the word “artisanal” sounds fancy, it essentially means unregulated and dangerous in the context of mining. Miners (who often include children) are exploited and face negative health consequences, especially since 90% of gold is mined using mercury. Gemstone mining is also hazardous as miners work in tunnels, inhaling dust. To avoid contributing to this oppression, you can turn to ethical jewelry brands that prioritize transparency, sustainability, and community empowerment. Here are five examples:
Joie De Viv
This jewelry company uses materials like certified lab-grown diamonds, reclaimed metals, and ethically-sourced sapphires. Suppliers must provide conflict-free materials and adhere to labor, trade, and environmental standards. To create lab-grown diamonds, solar technology replaces the natural diamond process. This means creating the diamonds uses much less energy, and the energy is renewable. Beyond their creation process, these diamonds are just like real ones. Their sapphires (a very popular precious stone) are also sourced ethically. Joie De Viv works closely with its suppliers to ensure traceability and safe conditions.
Using reclaimed metals helps decrease the demand for newly-mined gold, which as we mentioned earlier, is a dangerous process. By reclaiming gold instead of mining for it, Joie De Viv helps reduce water pollution, poor safety standards, and other rights violations. Also, precious metals can be reclaimed many times without losing their quality. When consumers buy from Joie De Viv, there’s no middleman, so you don’t pay a high retail markup.
Common Era is 100% woman-owned and has never accepted outside investment. Master goldsmiths in a family-owned workshop make every piece, while at least 90% of the gold and silver is recycled. As for the gems, they’re conflict-free and natural (not human-made). What’s unique about Common Era is the brand’s integration of ancient history and mythology. The Goddess Collection is inspired by feminist symbols and the heroines and goddesses from Greece mythology. The Talisman Collection, made from recycled silver and gold, is made in Istanbul using the lost wax casting method.
Common Era’s commitment to sustainability and ethics doesn’t end with their materials. Their packaging is plastic-free and based in a small family factory in Illinois. 3% of their profits go to the Animal Welfare Institute, Charity Watch’s top-rated animal organization. They also make an ongoing monthly donation to Slaughterhouse Survivors, an organization that rescues animals from dog meat farms. Common Era is compliant with standards issued by organizations like LBMA Responsible Gold/Silver Guidance, the American Gem Society, the Responsible Jewelry Council, and others.
Katherine Parr Jewelry describes itself as an “Haute bohemian jewelry brand” inspired by ancient cultures and travel. Founded by Katherine Parr, a model and educator, the brand works with fair-trade artisans in countries like South Africa, India, and Jordan. Artisans work in safe, ethical, and transparent facilities for fair pay. The brand also supports communities through artisan and primary school education.
To reduce its carbon footprint, Katherine Parr Jewelry says it does “everything possible in controlled environments with [a] high quality of standards.” It’s not clear what those standards are specifically. They do use eco-friendly tissue paper and handmade jewelry silk bags made from repurposed textiles. The female artisans responsible for the bags are associated with Custom Collaborative, a non-profit that helps provide education and employment to low-income immigrant women.
KBH Jewels uses conflict-free and sustainable diamonds and gold. That means using reclaimed gold. Gold from KBH is never plated, filled, or newly-mined. The diamonds are lab-grown and created in tightly-controlled lab greenhouses. They are identical to real diamonds except for how they’re made. KBH chooses to use reclaimed gold and lab-grown diamonds because of how unethical and environmentally-harmful mining is.
Their packing also focuses on sustainability. It’s either responsibly-made or from upcycled plastic waste. For their jewelry pouches, they use organic fabrics. Sustainability partners include the Mercury Free Mining Challenge, EarthWorks, and Ethical Metalsmiths.
This woman-led, certified B-corp jewelry brand uses a unique mobile technology to connect Kenyan artisans to a global marketplace. By using a “virtual factory,” a proprietary mobile app that connects the artisan network, independent artisans use phones to connect with the SOKO team and global consumers. The virtual factory standardizes manufacturing and provides artisans with tools and resources. Artisans that work with SOKO earn 5x more than the average artisan workshop. SOKO also maxes out work at 50% or less of an artist’s capacity, so they have more freedom and the opportunity for long-term, sustainable independence.
What about the materials? SOKO uses gold plating from a lab in their Nairobi headquarters, affordable brass, and silver made from chrome-plated, recycled brass. During the electroplating process, SOKO reuses the water. The brand also uses Kazuri ceramic beads, which is a Fair Trade women’s collective in Kenya. Their cow-horn and bone products are made from reclaimed materials, while wood is sourced from a local partner that uses sustainable practices.